Fishing in the fishing hut
Michael Wigan pays homage to the all-important angler's riverbank retreat.
The fishing is slow, the sun is bright, and the angler is weary. He sees the dark, cool recess of the fishing hut. In it there might be refreshment, victuals, a comfy chair, a place for respite. And other people feeling the same.
I was on a slow beat earlier this year and when my host and I talked over the day's outcome, to put flesh on the occasion, he said: “I did enjoy our time in the hut.” Somehow, you don't say that about the golf-club.
The fishing hut is a place anglers remember fondly.
Those assembled enjoy advantages over other social convocations. Everyone is dressed the same or similarly, so no-one can put anything over on anyone else by being smarter or cooler or more arresting. Then, everyone is relaxed. The real fishing hut social life is at midday earliest, certainly not before a line has been wetted in the water. There has to be something to discuss, the speed of the water, its colour, usually the presence or otherwise of the silver fish.
The fishing hut congregation is in down-time. The mobile phone is usually regarded as unwelcome, to be left outside, as in a church. It is a time for relaxation. You want to email? Go to the car.
Also, no-one is listening. There is no waiter or hovering hooverer, as there might be in a hotel. Long ears are not pressed to the door-jamb. Only anglers are present. They share an aim and a reason to be there. In a hut, snug in the trees or wedged under a shady bank, thoughts and feelings pour out. Prejudices, if by any awful chance anyone has any, can emerge safely in the fishing hut. I once lunched in a club where the rule was that whatever was said would not pass beyond its confines. When you departed, you left inside what you had heard – which made for interesting conversations! Thus it is, to some extent, an unspoken rule with fishing huts. If gossip there has to be, it is only more forthcoming because it is not about to be broadcast by loudspeaker to the crowd, or filed on a chatline seconds later.
That is, if things are fishing hut normal.The foregoing can of course be breached and abused. As anything can.
Anglers bring their sacred offerings to the table in the hut. Sometimes a home-grown radish or lettuce or wholemeal loaf appears, or a home-smoked meat (sorry, I'm vegan this week). It is a location where the untested home-brew can be tasted and trialled. Bullace gin which would not grace a dining-table, or even a self-respecting kitchen table, could materialise in the fishing hut. If you feel ill afterwards, well, the undergrowth is not far away. And the brewer or distiller is less inclined in the fishing hut to be offended if you turn your nose up at his creation.
Instead of having to watch out for your throwaway crumbs, many fishing huts have a resident mouse which disposes of rejected or dropped morsels. Hygiene there has to be, but the standard is a trifle lower than in the home kitchen. Often you just sweep the leftovers through spaces between the floorboards. Spilt ale is accepted as a form of floor varnish. I have never seen anyone stub out their cigarette on the fishing hut floor.
Some huts now have wood burners. There is a dividing-line between what is acceptable as a comfort extra and what is unacceptable because it is over-cushy. Huts exist, on rivers which will remain un-named, which are quasi-residential. Anglers really don't like that, despite admiring remarks made to the ghillie with whom they want to curry favour. It is too much like home, or like some ambivalent dream of home. You feel you might reach for the remote control or the newspaper. The whole point of fishing is to be out-of-range, and out of the grip of those devices. It is one thing to have a wobbly gas-ring for brewing fresh tea and another to have a gas-range fit for a king to flash-fry the kidneys on. Huge florid cannisters outside spoil the rustic look of things.
Increasingly, I have found fishing huts built over winter by the beat ghillie. The fact that ghillies are often builders/joiners may take anglers by surprise. But it is interesting to see what styles of hut they actually choose. I have found all examples tasteful and fitted to purpose. One man used timber from the estate attached to the beat. He had ash and pine and oak for various parts. The uprights of the porch were rough, not machined, natural tree trunks exposed to the wind with their own bends and twists. The hut was totally in keeping both with its setting and with its secondary purpose as a place to socialise.
From it, you could see the water. This is important, out of the reach of spates, within sight of the water. When we are fishing we watch the fly. Sometimes we miss the boil or fin showing further down the pool. If we are in the hut we can talk while gazing over the salmon watercourse. You see more whilst not actually angling.
Also, the swirling water works a sure magic. Not many fishermen can watch water flowing darkly by without some stirring in their imagination. What is under there? Has a fish run into the pool and taken up residence? When did the ghillie say the shoal-bearing tide came in? Isn't that water a bit browner after a thunder-plump up-river. Has that moved a fish to change station, backwards or forwards?
The solace and content offered by a fishing hut is apparent if you go to rivers without any. Then the fishing team organise around a car-boot or under a tree and recreate the hut atmosphere which is physically missing. An open-air fishing hut is conjured up.
No-one asks when being teased into accepting a fishing opportunity what the hut is like. Anglers say, what is the run like? But in their minds they have two features. One is the seductive flow of a pool where they lost a fish, caught a fish, thought they were on the point of catching a fish, or someone else caught a record fish. The second memory is of the fishing hut and times had there. Even of friends gone on who will not be there again.
The fishing hut is the temple on the beat. Anglers, pass through its portals with due reverence.